Museum merger might have worked

The merger of both Jewish museums in the Bay Area could have worked — if it had been executed properly. Last week, however, the board had no choice but to dismantle the miserably executed amalgamation.

Both the executive director, Connie Wolf, and the board of directors are to blame for turning a dream of combined museums into a nightmare.

When the board took over the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley, it assumed control of an institution that has been serving the community well for more than 40 years. And without any public warning, the new administration began firing its staff and allowing its dedicated volunteer docents to quit.

The result was that the Berkeley museum was turned into a carcass. Hours were cut back each week, and last summer the Berkeley site was shut down. Hardly any staff can be found in the building now.

Only in the past few months did Wolf and the board reveal that they inherited a badly ruptured, debt-ridden Berkeley museum.

Why didn't Wolf and the board prepare the community before wreaking ruin on the Berkeley museum? Surely during the months of legal preparations for the merger, the financial details should have been evident.

Wolf easily could have announced early on that by implementing immediate cutbacks, the combined museum would save the Berkeley facility from total bankruptcy and possible dissolution.

But all we heard during preparations for the merger was how wonderful the joined institutions would be, as Wolf and the board focused on plans to build a new museum in San Francisco's Yerba Buena district and in downtown Berkeley.

There was no clue that in the years it would take to raise the funds, both the Berkeley facility and the San Francisco gallery would be closed more than they would be open.

So now both museums will go it alone once again. And once again the Bay Bridge remains a huge divider separating the Jewish communities of the East and West Bay — and most of its institutions.